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So I am writing a story that is in my head for millions of years already and it is finally progressing. I like how things going for a first draft and I am pretty happy to get things going.

But lately I have created a lot of characters that accompany my MC. The story advances in such a way that it requires them to split up. This foreshadows an event to the MC or to the environment they are in. But I don't think my narrative should stick with the MC all the time. I think it is needed to swap perspectives to foreshadow some interesting upcoming event.

I have been reading up to similar questions like: Splicing/Mixing Scenes

But the answer was not really satisfactory. So I want ask a question of my own.

What is the best way to change to another character or scene without making the reader feel disoriented?

What I have tried now:

  • "In the meantime" approach. Introduce a new place and the antagonist foreshadowing a major unknown event that will happen at a place the MC is traveling to.
  • Chronological, swap to a character ahead of the party in which the MC is traveling that foreshadows an event that will take place as they happen.

What I want to happen:

  • Get one of my characters abducted as they are traveling so I can write more about the antagonist and the upcoming major event.
  • Progress on the event I have planned for the MC.

I have lots of things in store for the story and discover more as I go. But I am not really knowlegdeable in the different styles and/or techniques. So if anyone could point me in the right direction I would really appreciate it.

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What you are describing reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, once the Fellowship splits up. Different chapters follow Frodo, Aragorn, Merry and Pippin.

To avoid confusion, Tolkien always devotes whole chapters, not parts of them, to each character. That is, a jump between characters never occurs in the middle of a chapter.

Furthermore, whenever there is jump, Tolkien clearly indicates right at the beginning of the chapter who we're following now:

Pippin lay in a dark and troubled dream (LotR, III, 3 - The Uruk Hai)

‘My very bones are chilled,’ said Gimli (LotR, III, 5 - The White Rider)

‘Well, master, we’re in a fix and no mistake,’ said Sam Gamgee. (LotR IV, 1 - The Taming of Sméagol)

Etc.

Chronologically, Tolkien jumps back and forth with one line relative to the other, occasionally indicating what another group is doing at the same time. In other cases, different characters witness the same phenomenon from different places, giving the reader an anchor. This element helps maintain the unity of the plot.

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  • Either my chapters are too large (3000-3500 words) or my scenes too small (1000-1500) to do this. Focussing on the character I swapped to seems like a logical thing to do. Unless you are trying to introduce a new one like the antagonist brooding, scheming perhaps? – Totumus Maximus May 22 '18 at 12:53
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    1000-1500 words for a chapter is fine, if it fits your story. I've written chapters that are less than 400 words. I remember reading a book where a chapter was a single sentence. What matters is that there's no confusion to the reader: that's more important than consistent chapter sizes. – Erdrik Ironrose May 22 '18 at 14:52
  • @TotumusMaximus I alternate between two PoV's by chapter and broke several chapters into smaller units (1200 words) which are now their own chapters instead of scenes within chapters. I did this to keep the timeline more coherent. I still have one hiccup in the timeline but hope it is not too noticeable to the reader. – DPT May 22 '18 at 16:07
  • @ErdrikIronrose In my mind and similar book I have read the amount of chapters seemed limited (20-25 chapters). They also had like 300 pages worth of story. This would mean about 4000 words each chapter. The scene switches that happened there were often marked with decorated lines and similar techniques you propose. Is this a bad habit I should not emulate? – Totumus Maximus May 23 '18 at 7:58
  • @TotumusMaximus I would say coherent chapter switches are a good habit. I personally use decorated lines to indicate which character's PoV the reader is now in, so I can recommend that for coherence. I fully recommend swapping perspectives on chapters. I'm currently experimenting with swapping PoV mid-chapter too, but it's only really worked if the characters are relatively inside the same scene. Swapping to something far away and back again is quite jarring. – Erdrik Ironrose May 23 '18 at 8:13
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(tl;dr at end.)

I was unaware of PoV considerations when I started writing last year. I thought I wrote in limited third, but had several ~1500 word scenes where my intended PoV characters were absent. My options were (1) to introduce new PoV characters, (2) make sure the PoV character is added to the scene and tell it from that PoV, or (3) find the needed information in those scenes and work them in elsewhere, within the PoV character's scenes.

I chose the third, and I recommend this. The benefit of pulling those rogue scenes and finding a way to work the information elsewhere, is that it tends to improve the scene you add into. It also serves to keep confusion to the reader to a minimum. Here's an example to illustrate what I mean:

Two non-PoV characters (mother/daughter) have a nice long walk away from everyone else, deciding the future of the daughter. I thought the scene established character and setting, and the information about the daughter's future was critical to the storyline. I liked that it was an after dinner stroll. It had very little tension, except the conflict at the end of the scene where they argue.

I pulled the scene. I moved the conversation so that it occurs within earshot of the PoV character in another scene (but same evening as before). So now, (when a door is opened and closed), the PoV character overhears two lines of the Mother/Daughter arguing, and the exact information that the reader needs to know is conveyed.

It adds an emotional element too. It ratchets up the tension in that scene, just a little, to hear a snippet of two people arguing elsewhere. It's more concentrated, which is better, at least in my case. The slow parts of the original scene are gone.


tl;dr:

Your question: What is the best way to switch to another character's PoV?

My answer: Limit the number of points of view that you use, and change at chapter breaks. If you have rogue scenes, identify the necessary information and find a way to work it in elsewhere and ditch the rest.

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  • Mm I do not dislike this. But in my case the antagonist has not made an appearance yet. I would like some kind of foreshadowing making a promise to the reader for some villainry to happen later in the story. – Totumus Maximus May 23 '18 at 7:53

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